Farm Labor Shortage Looms

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When the nation’s farmers started experiencing labor shortages last year they didn’t know what to expect for the future; for many, the situation was without precedent. Early indicators for the 2012 season don’t bode well for the nation’s specialty crop growers who rely mainly on human labor instead of power-driven machines to bring their produce to market. No one is hitting the panic button just yet, but the situation is a bit scary.

According to Seattle NPR affiliate KPLU, growers in Washington State are now plowing under large portions of their asparagus acreage because they can’t find enough hands to harvest the labor-intensive crop in a timely manner. The situation in Georgia is so bad that state officials have asked its prison population to pick a vast crop of onions.

The ensuing farm labor shortage begs an important question: in a nation with so many jobless claims, why are there so many unfilled jobs?

“These are jobs that frankly, Americans don’t want to do,” offered Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing last week.

Touche.

With the flow of migrant workers from Mexico into the U.S. slowing to a trickle (if not reversing) and a seemingly self-aggrandized work force – too far removed from its agrarian roots to even notice that there is a problem afoot – 2012 might break the boom trend that the agriculture sector has been experiencing for the past few years.